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August 30, 2009

The love-challenged generation

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


A young woman who doesn’t want to commit; a young man who does. We usually think of it being the other way around, but not so in “(500) Days of Summer.” The young Summer (Zooey Deschanel) doesn’t believe in true love or finding “the one,” and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does.

Where do Summer and Tom get their respective, conflicting ideas about love? A brief but important retrospective of their formative years tells all. Summer is a child of divorce, Tom is a child of pop culture with its hope-filled dreams. But their stubborn clinging to their fixed ideas blocks them both from facing reality. Although “(500) Days of Summer” has a light touch, Tom’s pain is felt.

Tom’s advantage over Summer is that he’s not alone. His buddies and his little sister all help to interpret and even narrate his love life for him, with some not-too-shoddy advice. This shows that love isn’t just a private thing, it’s a social thing.

It’s heartening to see how much the younger generation gets right about love. It’s disheartening to see the (all too trueto- life) trivialization of the body and sex. Even though Tom complains about the casualness of it all, it doesn’t slow him down one bit. The emphasis is on the spiritual, finding a soul mate, almost to the point of a kind of spiritualism of male/female relationships.

There is no God in the movie. However, there is an attempt to match earthly events with some kind of cosmic significance. But we as Catholics know that the primal religious impulse, which is good, if left to itself becomes superstition.

In “Love and Responsibility,” Pope John Paul II told us, “Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom — it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means to limit one’s freedom on behalf of the other. This might seem to be something negative or unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing.”

I would have rated this movie R for the several coarse moments. It’s true kids see this kind of stuff daily, but it’s almost worse when it’s portrayed in such a consequence- neutral manner. At the beginning of the movie we were warned that this was not a story about love. But it is.

Burns, who ministers in Chicago, has a philosophy/theology degree from St. John’s University, N.Y., and studied screenwriting at the University of California-Los Angeles.